Tag Archives: Europe

Danish story, video and comments on the Albertslund-Copenhagen “bicycle superhighway”

A reader pointed me to a news story on the politiken.dk blog about the Copenhagen/Albertslund “bicycle superhighway” which is getting attention and publicity. The reader’s comments on my previous post read:

Yeah, its kind of joke, but to be fair they are not called superhighways in Danish but Super bicycle tracks, and even then most agree that they are not really that super. There is a video of the entire route here if you scroll down a bit:

http://politiken.dk/debat/skrivdebat/ECE1615543/er-koebenhavns-nye-cykelsti-virkeligsuper/

The two next ones which will open are another story though, as they mostly have their own right of way, and use viaducts or bridges to cross streets.

So, better things may be on their way, but…I ran the article through the Google translator, and it appears in the link below in (sort of) English. The page includes the sped-up video of the entire route.

http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fpolitiken.dk%2Fdebat%2Fskrivdebat%2FECE1615543%2Fer-koebenhavns-nye-cykelsti-virkelig-super%2F&act=url

Here’s the video — warning, Shell diesel fuel ad at start, and you can only stop the video when you click on it, see the ad again and click on it to open a bigger ad! This workaround was needed to make the video visible on this page.

The one unifying factor of this route is an orange line painted lengthwise to identify it. The first part of the route is relatively tame. Barriers, unprotected intersections and other hazards pile up near the end.

Some representative quotes (I’ve translated from Googlish to English, thanks to an online dictionary and my knowledge of the neighbor language, German.):

From the article:

“I did not expect that I just had to detour on ordinary roads in residential neighborhoods. I did not see much of the green wave that is supposed to be in town. I do not think you can call it a super bike path,” the [politiken dk test rider] concluded.

From comments on the article:

- The section of tunnel under Motorring 3 is dark and miserably lighted. There are many riding schools (which, incidentally, should be forced to close and move out into a rural area!). The tunnel is usually filled with horse s***, and because you can not see in these tunnels due to poor lighting, you can only hope that you do not ride through any of it.

*****

- In the westbound direction, at the pitch-dark tunnels, you have to negotiate two sets of barriers. The point of these, other than to impede traffic, I do not know. But when you have to use all your mental energy to get through these, they constitute more of a hazard than a safety precaution.

*****

I have commuted between Roskilde and the northwest part of Copenhagen 2-3 times a week on a recumbent trike with an electric assist motor for 6 months (http://ing.dk/blogs/pedalbilen). When I used the “super path” the trip was about 3 km and 15 minutes longer. Especially the part of the route in Albertslund is very indirect and inconvenient. There are detours, barriers and ramps in most places, and it will for example not be possible to ride in a velomobile, as far as I can judge. The new route is comfortable and free of exhaust, but as commuter route it gets a failing grade compared with Roskildevej [a parallel, 4-lane divided but not limited-access highway with one-way sidepaths].

*****

- I didn’t see anything which shows that cyclists have priority over the other traffic. Unfortunately, the only thing new that I see is approximately 100 meters of new asphalt in two places near Rødovre, so that it is easy going. There are simply no real improvements for cyclists in relation to other road users! You can still find barriers, sharp turns, bumps and traffic lights. Why is there no new cycle path, e.g. along the western forest road, so you do not have to drive through neighborhoods with pedestrians and children playing? Why are barriers not turned 90 degrees, so users of the route have right of way?

Even if there were brand new asphalt on the entire route it would never merit the title “super”. Only when a route enables more or less continuous travel at high average speed (which motorists know from motorways) does it, in my opinion, deserve the massive marketing it is currently getting.

*****

…Bus passengers cross the bikeway. It seems quite unreasonable that there are no islands at bus stops where passengers have to wait when they get on and off. Thus cyclists must stop, and so, so much for the “super bike path”.

Guest posting: Ian Cooper on Euro bicycling cultures

Note from John Allen: Ian Cooper originally wrote the following essay as a counter-argument against the idea that there has never been a European bike culture, based on observations that did not extend beyond typical urban cycling on heavy, black bicycles.


I cycled throughout Europe in 1984 and 1985. I spent a year and a half there and covered 10,000 miles. I cycled through 13 countries, often together with locals.

Ian Cooper with the massive black bike

Ian Cooper with the massive black 'family bike' he borrowed

There were three bicycling cultures in Europe at that time – as there have always been since at least WW2. There’s the culture of the family bike, there’s the culture of the hobby bike, and there’s the commuter bike culture. The family bike crowd kept their dad’s and mom’s bike in the basement – often it was heavy, old, cranky and rusty. It worked – barely, but it got them out doing errands every week or so when the family car wasn’t available. The ‘bike as a hobby’ culture used mid- to high-end bikes for weekend outings and tours. Then there was the commuter, and he needed an everyday bike that could go faster and had more gears than the family bike because he was on it every day for a good amount of time – so he chose the mid-range racing bikes too.

I have been a cyclist for 40 years – since I was 8 [in 1971, more or less]. In 1979 or 1980 I started commuting to work on a mid-range Peugeot road bike. This was in England. I was not a bicycle enthusiast – I was just a commuter, and as a commuter I needed a bike that was light, fast and maneuverable, and one that could get up hills. I did that for 4 years, 250 days a year, rain or snow.

My European trip started as a walking tour to Istanbul. In Holland I pulled a muscle in my foot and couldn’t go on. I met a family on the border between Holland and Germany and they loaned me a bike – a massive black thing (I still have a picture of it) and the family and I went for a ride – at 4mph through the Dutch countryside. Even though it was slow, it showed I could continue my journey because my foot could pedal without pain.

Now, I spent time with about 15 families during my tour. Most of them were like this one – they owned an old cranky ‘family’ bike but their main transportation was their car. I stayed with three families who owned at least one mid-range or high-end bike. They all owned a car too, but they were the ‘hobbyists’. I didn’t stay with any bike commuters that I remember – one may have been.

I set out for Cologne and sought out a bike shop. I asked the owner for a good touring bike for under $300. He steered me to a Motobecane Super Mirage (I still have a few pictures of it). Then I set off to Istanbul.

Ian Cooper in Kozani (Macedonia) with the Motobécane

On my way (and on my way from Istanbul to Granada, and back to England again) I met very many cyclists, some on day trips, some foreigners like me on tours. But the local cyclists I met were much the same as the ones we see today on bike trails, some vacationing commuters with racers and some hobbyists with touring bikes (I don’t remember many mountain bikes back then – some Americans and Australians used them). I rarely saw the heavy bikes on the tour routes because they were used by families pretty much purely for shopping. When I did see them they were in the towns.

If you didn’t tour by bike you wouldn’t see many quality bikes, because their owners spent little time in the cities. If you did tour, I can’t imagine how you could miss all the local tourists and commuters with their middle and high-end Motobécanes, Peugeots, Raleighs, etc. The Dutch family I first met certainly did not have a mid-range or high-end bike in the house, and if I had turned around and gone home at that point, I might be agreeing about the lack of a bike culture in Europe in the 1980s. But I went on and found the bike culture. It’s not in the towns and it’s certainly not in most European homes. But it is in evidence along the tour routes and I know it DOES influence the transportation scene. The problem is, it doesn’t influence it as much as the family bike culture, which is much the same as it is here – scared of cars and wants bike lanes. This is essentially, I believe, because it is not really a bike culture – it’s a car culture in which the car is often stranded at the main breadwinner’s work, so the rest of the family get stuck having to use the family bike. It’s obvious who these people are in Europe – they all ride those heavy and nasty Dutch bikes. But here [in the USA], the family bike, the hobby bike and the commuter bike all look pretty similar, which makes it hard to sort the family bike folks (who aren’t really cyclists) from the true bike culture.

Anyway, I fear I’ve started rambling, so I’ll shut up and just post my thoughts. Hopefully they make sense to someone besides me.

Guest posting: Alan Forkosh on community bike systems

Vélib bicycles, Paris, France

Vélib bicycles, Paris, France, September, 2009

This guest posting is by permission of the author, Alan Forkosh, who writes:

Here are some observations on how the Vélib community bike system in Paris works.

My thoughts on the issue crystallized after a trip to Paris in the fall of 2009 and stemmed from 3 observations:

  • The heavy use of Vélib and the high density of Vélib stands;
  • The lack of Vélibs parked in the wild;
  • The fact that the common way of obtaining a Vélib was to swipe an authorized Navigo transit pass at the stand holding the bike.

By the way, I have some pictures of Vélibs and other bikes online.

A community bike sharing program is not about the bike: it’s about overcoming the shortcomings of the mass transportation system and making it better serve the users without increasing congestion. The problem with mass transit is that unless you are very lucky, it doesn’t quite serve your needs. The inefficiencies in waiting for trains or buses, waiting for transfers, and not going exactly where you want to go add up. In many cases, you get very frustrated just attempting the trip. A community bike system alleviates that by giving you an almost instant way to cut the delays and straighten routes to go from place to place without the intra-system delays. You go to a bike station near your origin, swipe your pass, and take the associated bike. When you reach your destination, you click the bike into a stand and are done with it. The grid is dense, so that these stations should be no more than 1000 feet from the origin and destination (I think that Vélib stations are spaced no more than 300 meters [about 1000 feet] apart).

In Paris, it is rare to see an unattended Vélib away from a bike station; the stations provide more convenient and secure parking than trying to manipulate the lock provided on the bike. Also, if you leave the bike unattended away from a station, you are responsible for it; once you secure it to its post at a station, you’re done with it. Note that Paris is only about 6 miles across and there is no extra charge for a Vélib for the first 30 minutes. So you should be able to complete almost any trip without charge. I’d be surprised if there is any measurable keeping of a Vélib over 30 minutes.

So, the intention of the program is mobility: the bike is only an instrument to promote that. The bike should be used when it makes sense to travel that way. You don’t need to plan. This idea would fail if the user were required to provide any bulky personal equipment (helmet, gloves, etc.) to use the bike.

Report from Seville

A Spanish advocate of integrated cycling about conditions in Seville:

Disastrous: officially (according to the Seville City Council), some 120 km of segregated cycle lanes (most of them bidirectional) have been built at an official cost of 30 million Euros. (I say “officially” and “official” because I wouldn’t trust the Seville City Council to tell me the time of the day); there is also a bit of gossiping around (plausible enough, although there is no way to verify it) saying that a sizable part of that sum has been put not into the actual building of the structures, but into the political and social marketing campaign to sell the “Seville model of bicycle promotion”; one of the most visible elements of this marketing campaign has been this year’s Velo-City conference, held recently in Seville (http://www.velo-city2011.com/), conveniently, just a few weeks before the upcoming local elections.

The mantra of the Seville City Council’s campaign is something to the effect that “the cycling mode share in Seville has risen from 0.2% to 7% as a result of our commitment to segregated structures”. The numbers used change from time to time (essentially, they say different things to different publics at different moments: a couple years ago it got as high as 8%; now the most-repeated mark is 6.6%), with another often repeated line being that “Cycling in Seville has increased ten-fold in five years (as a result of our commitment blah blah blah…)”.

If you read Spanish, you can read an analysis debunking some aspects of the Seville City Council’s bull**** in this blog post by a member of the growing community of Spanish vehicular (or integrated, as we often like to call ourselves) cyclists:
http://bicicletasciudadesviajes.blogspot.com/2011/02/cambio-modal-realidad-o-ficcion.html [Translation of blog name is "urban bicycle trips" and of the title of the post is "mode shift, reality or fiction"]

I commented on this issue in this comments thread in an English-language blog you may know, when the blog’s author repeated a bit mindlessly the official crap:

http://quickrelease.tv/?p=1476#disqus_thread

The outcome is thoroughly disastrous at several levels: not only are the segregated structures senseless and completely substandard (I am using “substandard” in the British sense here, not implying that I accept any standard at all); the city is a showcase of lost opportunities to improve real cycling conditions placed right next to the segregated crap; the local dominant cycling culture has become one of passive-aggressive cyclestrians riding on sidewalks even in trivial streets; the social status of the cyclists AND PEDESTRIANS has deteriorated (the level of conflict between pedestrians and cyclists is appalling; you can feel the increased hostility of car drivers if you ride on the roadway in a street with a cycle lane, although I have to admit, much less so than I expected); the number of cars has not decreased at all; Seville is indeed becoming an example for other clueless cities to imitate; the segregated chaos is prompting a host of Kafkaeske local ordinances to regulate the behavior of the cyclestrians… but on the other hand, the number of cyclists who don’t buy into the crap any longer is growing (http://ciudadciclista.org), and even the fact that Seville has been so extreme and reckless in following the segregationist madness is in some ways acting to our advantage: Seville has wanted to become an amazing example: some of our efforts are now directed at turning it into a horrible warning.

I also asked about crash statistics:

Regarding your question about crash stats: the situation in Seville is that of a complete information blackout. As far as I know, there is just no data publicly available. Just to give you an idea of how things are around here: over one year ago there was an article in the local press stating that “according to the conclusions of a study soon to be made public, the cycle lanes are safe for cyclists”. As you can guess, no study has been published since. Fun, uh?

The article, and the parody of it I wrote are here:

http://www.diariodesevilla.es/article/sevilla/595289/los/accidentes/mortales/ciclistas/crecen/carretera.html

http://bicilibre.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/accidentes-mortales-de-ciclistas-sevilla/

The contrast with Barcelona (one of the other, if less maddened, bikelaneist black holes in Spain) is stark: In Barcelona, a report is published yearly, and the news was for two years straight that the bicycle accidents were rising significantly, although it appears that they are lately down again (haven’t paid much attention to the issue).

http://www.adn.es/local/barcelona/20080110/NWS-1167-aumentaron-accidentes-bicicleta-barcelona.html [NWS-1167 -- increas in bicycle crashes in Barcelona]
http://www.lavanguardia.es/vida/20090430/53693094057/los-accidentes-de-bici-son-los-unicos-que-aumentan-en-barcelona-en-2008.html [Bicycle crashes are the only kind that increase in numbers in Barcelona in 2008]

http://www.lavanguardia.es/ciudadanos/noticias/20090116/53619840434/los-ciclistas-sufrieron-492-accidentes-en-barcelona-en-2008-un-113-mas.html

http://www.elpais.com/articulo/espana/Bajan/accidentes/bicicleta/Barcelona/elpepuesp/20110112elpepunac_13/Tes

http://www.elperiodico.com/es/noticias/agenda/20110112/bajan-los-accidentes-bicicleta-mantiene-mortalidad-motoristas-barcelona/661506.shtml

18 mph Speed Limit: European? Sensible? Read On.

In two consecutive issues of the estimable Southwest Cycling News (print) publication, I have seen the picture below.

18 mph Albuquerque sign

Editor Fred Meredith shot the photo of the sign on a bicycle boulevard — a low-traffic, residential street configured as a through route for bicyclists — in Albuquerque, New Mexico while attending the 2010 League of American Bicyclists National Rally. Meredith wears more than one bicycle helmet — he also works under contract for the League’s education program, so it is natural for him to attend the National Rally.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m an instructor in the League’s program, and I’m also a proponent of bicycle boulevards and of low speed limits on residential streets. Many European residential streets have a similar speed limit. and so do some streets in Montréal, Québec, in Canada — as per the sign on the left in the photo below.

Some signs in Montréal, Québec

Some signs in Montréal, Québec

Similar speed limit, what? That sign reads 30!

Yes, it does: 30 kilometers per hour. Canada changed its speed limit signs from miles to kilometers in 1977, conforming to the rest of the world, the only major holdout nations being the USA and the United Kingdom. Part of Canada is French-speaking, the kilometer is a French invention, and that might have something to do with Canada’s divergence from its southern neighbor.

So, anyway, American bicycling advocates on pilgrimages to Europe see the 30 km/hour signs, which look like a good idea to them, and decide to transplant the idea back home.

As I said, I support lower speed limits. I have a few problems with the sign, though.

First of all, our bicycling advocates appear to be math-challenged — or perhaps they want to go a bit lower on speed limits than the Europeans.

30 km per hour converts to 18.64 miles per hour, rounded to the nearest 1/100th. Rounded to the nearest whole number, then, it’s 19 miles per hour — not 18.

There’s another problem with the number 18 — or for that matter, 19. Have you ever before seen a speed limit in miles per hour with a final digit other than zero or 5 — or in kilometers, with anything other than zero? No, you haven’t. There are a couple of reasons. The steps in speed limits need to be large enough to be meaningful. Also, a zero and a 5 look so different that they are very unlikely to be confused with each other at a glance, or if a sign is damaged or partially obscured. An 8, on the other hand, is easily confused with a 3, or a zero. A 9 is easily confused with a 2 or a 7.

The requirement that speed limits go by jumps of 5 or 10 is written into US standards documents. The US standard, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, section 2B.13, includes the following wording:

The speed limits displayed shall be in multiples of 5 mph.

Am I nitpicking by raising these issues? I don’t think so. Confusion makes a speed limit harder to observe, and harder to enforce. So do speeds which must be estimated, between the markings on a speedometer. Failure to observe standards exposes governments to liability risks. A nonstandard speed limit can give speeders and their lawyers a legal loophole.

The issue is similar to the one with bike lane color that I described in an earlier post.

The usual school-zone speed limit in the USA is 20 mph. It is only slightly higher than the European and Canadian 30 km/hour speed limit, and it conforms to US standards. This same 20 mph speed limit is already being used in residential neighborhoods in the USA. If 20 mph is too high, 15 also is possible, and I have seen it, in parking lots and the loading/unloading areas of airport terminals.

Advocates of an 18 mph speed limit are acting in disregard of existing American standards which would give them very nearly the same speed limit, on a sign that is more readable and immune to legal challenges.

When and if the USA goes over to speed limits in kilometers per hour, the current speed limits will be adjusted up or down slightly so the numbers end in a zero, as in other countries.

If the USA makes the conversion, a large number of “speed limit 30″ signs will become available for re-use as 30 kilometers per hour, and the bicycling and neighborhood safety advocates can expect to have the genuine European speed limit at a bargain price. I will support them in that.

About bicycle lighting and onions

A chance meeting can lead to unexpected discoveries.

I met and spoke with Kurt Cibulski following a reading from a new book by its author, a mutual friend. I had arrived at the reading by bicycle; Kurt and I were talking bicycling. Kurt explained that he has a seizure disorder. The bright, rapidly-flashing LED headlights that bicyclists are increasingly using can initiate a seizure for him. “Who’d ‘a’ thunk it.” thought I.

Who? A proper, national standards-setting body, because someone, somewhere, would have brought the issue to its attention. On second thought, it’s obvious. Flashing lights are well-known to trigger seizures.

It’s also a truism that flashing lights draw attention. Many bicyclists ride in urban areas with overhead lighting, and don’t need a steady headlight beam to guide their way. But on the other hand…there’s the seizure problem.

Without careful standards setting, issues like this slip through the cracks. Designs get based on whim, commercial appeal, economies of production and avoidance of liability risk.

In the USA, individual cyclists are held responsible under state laws for using lights at night, but law enforcement is near-nonexistent, and many cyclists don’t use lights. The USA does have a Consumer Product Safety Commission, which, under pressure from the bicycle industry, has set standards — weak standards — only for retroreflectors on bicycles, never for lights. Retroreflectors only work for drivers whose headlights are pointed at them, and do not light up for the pedestrian stepping off the curb, the motorist in the cross street ahead, two bicyclists on a path approaching each other head-on. Bicycle manufacturers can point to Federal regulations and say that they are doing something for nighttime safety, while not being held responsible for these deficiencies.

This situation holds some ironies and unintended consequences beyond the obvious one that cyclists are being injured and killed for want of lights. The lack of standardization in the USA has given lighting manufacturers free rein to innovate, and has led to the availability of some very fine bicycle lighting systems. In the USA, when you see a cyclist with a light, you will probably see that cyclist from a good, long distance, because the light is a very good light.

In Germany, by way of contrast, lights are required on new bicycles. Manufacturer pressure comes to bear in a different way. To keep expense down, most lights only meet the letter of the law and are are less bright, and much less reliable, than the good ones sold in the USA. Bureaucratic inertia has compounded the problem: Germany requires bicycle lights to be powered by a generator. That made sense 40 years ago when battery lights were weak and battery replacement was expensive. Today’s efficient light-emitting diodes and high-capacity rechargeable batteries make battery lights economical and practical.

Generator lights also have improved, thanks to advances in technology and to discerning European cyclists’ demand for better lights that also meet the requirements of their laws — but a good generator lighting system can cost half as much as the bicycle on which it is installed.

A restrictive legal climate leads to this kind of market distortion; contrast this with the wider scope of innovation and slip-through-the-cracks issues in the US market.

I can’t help noticing that kiosk “bike share” (actually rental) bicycles that are becoming popular in American cities all are equipped with LED headlights and taillights, powered by a generator in the front hub. It only makes sense. The rental agencies have a more direct liability exposure than bicycle manufacturers who sell to individuals. But — the lights on the rental bicycles flash, because the generators produce alternating current and the output is not smoothed. Possibly also because flashing lights are popular and nobody though of the seizure-disorder issue.

Where are we heading with all this? I think that we’re approaching a political tipping point where regulations requiring lights on at least some kinds of new bicycles might be possible in the USA: both because of an increase in interest in utility cycling, and because improving technology had made bicycle lights much less expensive, more reliable and more compact. I mean, if little children can have flashing LEDs in the soles of their shoes, just to look cool, it isn’t much of a leap to think that every new utility bicycle could be equipped with lights.

But we also need to be smart, and look forward as technology improves, so regulations don’t box us in with outdated technology and inferior products, as in Germany.

Now, about those onions:

To give Kurt proper credit in this article, I asked his name and came up with another unexpected discovery. He spelled his name, and then volunteered, “Cibulski means ‘onion man’ in Polish. It’s a pan-European word.” Yes! Again, who’d ‘a’ thunk it? German, Zwiebel. Spanish, cibolla. I looked it up, and found variants in languages as diverse as Basque, Czech, Gaelic, Norwegian, Romanian…

I suppose that there’s another parallel, besides the two unexpected discoveries. Bicycle lighting issues, with all the political and technological complications, peel apart in layers like an onion, too.

Thanks, Kurt!

Guest posting: P. M. Summer on a new breed of bicycle professionals

P. M. Summer is the former bicycle coordinator of Dallas, Texas, who was removed from his job because of his conservative approach to bicycle facilities. I post the following with his permission:

There is a whole new breed of bicycle professional out there. They aren’t what we usually think of as cyclists, much less traffic engineers or transportation planners. They are most often urban planners and landscape architects, who have become virtual social engineers. They see their job as changing the way dumb old Americans live in favor of the ways enlightened Low-Country Europeans live.

The bicycle is a means to that end. In their eyes, the bicycle isn’t a vehicle (as code defines it), and never has been. It’s a shoe with wheels. Cynically, they usually add “pedestrian” to their title, while short-shifting pedestrians in favor of “pedalcyclists”.

Most of these new bicycle professionals have never used a bicycle as a regular transportation device (including the gentleman hired to replace me), believe the road (any road) is inherently unsafe for cyclists, and believe that a segregated network is the enlightened (and sole) way to dramatically change mode share.

It’s almost impossible to argue with folks like this, because the only common point of reference is the word “bicycle”, and by “bicycle”, they mean something very different than what I, or others who think like me, do.

The problems we point out about how traffic operates don’t register, because bicycles can never be “traffic” in their eyes. Traffic is always the bicycle’s enemy, and never the bicycle’s environment. People who operate bicycles are like swimmers in shark-infested waters to them. The brave and fool-hardy only need apply. “Normal” people know better, and stay on the side-path/walk/track/gutter.

Fifteen years ago I had the Texas DOT Bicycle Coordinator plead with me to quit defending placing bicycle facilities (signed bike routes) on streets with lanes less than 14 ft. wide. When I explained to him that I preferred 10 ft. lanes, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. “You can’t put cyclists in the way of cars!” he said.

There is a growing “bikes belong off the road” sentiment. Cycling Advocates are slow to support cyclists like Eli [Damon], or Reed Bates, or Fred U., [who have been harassed by police for exercising their legal right to use the road] because to defend them would be to say that it’s not unsafe to ride on the roads… and LAB, ABW, and APBP [the League of American Bicyclists, Alliance for Bicycling and Walking and the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals] can’t afford to admit that.

Why can’t these new bicycle advocates admit that bicycles can easily operate as part of the transportation mix, instead of having to be segregated from it? To admit that makes the extravagant demands for special facilities clearly just that: extravagant demands. Andy Clarke, then of BikeFed [the Bicycle Federation of America, now the National Center for Bicycling and Walking; now Clarke is President of the League of American Bicyclists] once described the cost for a segregated bicycle facility as being “mere decimal dust” compared to the cost of automobile projects. That ‘decimal dust’ has turned into hundreds of millions of dollars in consultant and lobbyist fees, as well as “bicycle planner” salaries. Admitting that most of these facilities aren’t necessary for safe and easy bicycle transportation endangers too much money currently being poured into the new cottage industry of “Amsterdamning America”, and threatens too much personal power. Politicians, eager for popular (if unproven) quick fixes, are far more likely to endorse feel-good projects using other people’s money than they are to call for better educated and trained cyclists.

You may find more from P.M. Summer on his own blog.

Dutch traffic jams

Many bicycle planners and advocates would like to suggest that increases in bicycle use lead to a decrease in motor vehicle use. The Netherlands is often held up as an example. The reality there is different.

Here’s a quote from a recent Time magazine article:

The Netherlands may be known overseas for its cycling culture, but outside the country’s city centers, gridlock is the more dreary reality. Vehicle use has risen sharply over the years, but road capacity has yet to catch up — in part due to lack of space.

Dutch people like their bicycles, but evidently they also like their cars. Despite the highest bicycle mode share of any industrialized country and high fuel prices, motor-vehicle use has been, as the article says, rising sharply. Here is a slide from a presentation given in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA in the fall of 2008 by Hans Voerknecht of the Dutch government’s Fietsberaad (bicycling research institute).

Dutch feelings about motoring, bicycling and public transportation

Dutch feelings about motoring, bicycling and public transportation

Also, and rather surprisingly to this author, the Dutch are much less happy with public transportation than with either bicycling or motoring — not very good news as far as bicycling is concerned, because the bicycling and public transportation  complement one another.

There’s a lesson here somewhere. What is it? What keeps public transportation from being more appealing in the Netherlands, a rather small and wealthy country which ought to be able to afford high-quality service? What would succeed in making public transportation more appealing there? What would succeed in reducing use of private motor vehicles, or at least its societal costs in lost time, use of space, and environmental degradation? What lessons does the situation hold for the USA?

Ciccarelli on cycle tracks

John Ciccarelli is a consultant on bicycling and a League of American Bicyclists-certified cycling instructor who specializes in teaching adults who have never ridden a bicycle before. His comments here are reprinted by permission, and are in response to an e-mail he cites.

Subject: Re: Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany
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Copenhagen in 1937 — what can it tell us?

I thank Ralph Fertig of the Santa Barbara, California Bicycle Coalition for drawing the attention of the bicycling community to the following fascinating travelogue from Copenhagen, shot in Technicolor in 1937. Not all of the film is about bicycling, but the bicycling scenes are worth the wait.

Copenhagen TravelTalk 1937 from Justin Lim on Vimeo.

In 1937, bicycling had been the dominant mode of road transportation in Copenhagen for decades. No transition to motoring had occurred, as in the USA. Bicycling declined after WWII with the increasing popularity and affordability of motor vehicles, but has since recovered considerably with the construction of bicycle facilities and other measures to encourage bicycling, and extremely high taxes on new cars.

The film from 1937 shows some very interesting scenes of bicyclists interacting with the relatively few motorists, especially near the end. Interaction is mostly vehicular, and bicyclists establish the prevailing speed of traffic. Look at how they navigate a traffic circle, moving to the center to go straight through. Bicyclists conduct themselves much like motor scooter users I saw in Taiwan in 2002.

I also notice that the youngest bicyclists shown are in the early- to mid-teen years. That also comports with what I saw in Taiwan, and differs from the “eight to eighty” paradigm that must be accommodated only with separate facilities, or on streets where motorists operate very gingerly — eight-year-olds can’t reliably follow the rules of the road.

Clearly, pre-WWII Danes were experienced bicyclists, but on the other hand, there is some rather sloppy bicycling shown.

Gotta love the narration:

“…a people who have contributed to the stability and progress of the white race, for the Danes are the descendants of the courageous Vikings…”

I had mistyped Bikings :-)

Those Vikings were rather ruthless expansionist warriors, actually (just ask the Scots) , and in 1937, the Danes were within a very few years of being invaded themselves by history’s most brutal exponents of the concept of the “white race.”

New York City bicycling advocate Steve Faust adds the following observations:

I think I recognize the bridge…just west of the center city,
if so, the roadway has been changed from 4 mixed roadway lanes with trolley tracks in the center,
to two motor lanes without any streetcars, and two cycle track lanes – one on each side for one way bicycle flow.
The pedestrian sidewalk space remains about the same width as in the film.

The streets leading to and from the bridge have been given a cycle track treatment in place of the two motor lanes [sic], and probably are part of the bicycle speed paced green wave of traffic signals.

There is almost as much bike traffic on these streets today, plus more motor traffic volume, all on the same street width.
The major change besides the dedicated cycle tracks, is the use of the right hand left turn in a holding bike box on the far side of the intersection. This eliminates bikes having to merge across the car lane and possibly more critical, bikes don’t wait in the motor lane for a clear left turn, which waiting would block the relatively narrow motor lane – there are no left turn pockets.

Cyclist waiting time is minimized by having a total 60 second traffic signal cycle time. A cyclist arriving on the green through light has less than 30 seconds to wait at the far corner for the cross street green light – a delay that might well be shorter than waiting for a clear left turn from the roadway. I’ve certainly stood for over 30 seconds in the middle of the road waiting for a safe clear left turn.

The bike box Steve is discussing is a cross-street bike box, which serves only left-turning traffic.

The graph below is from a presentation by Dutch bicycle program official Hans Voerknecht given in Boston, Massachusetts, USA in November, 2008.

The mode share for Copenhagen is indicated by the green line that starts at around 40 percent in 1920, rises to around 55 percent either side of World War II, then falls and rises again to around 37 percent in 1995.

This widely quoted number, though, is for commute trips only.  According to more comprehensive sources from 1995 and also from more recent years — see this posting — bicycle trips are around 22% of all trips in Copenhagen. Data from earlier years and especially from before World War II may have been collected differently.

Copenhagen still has a large bicycle mode share for a city in an industrialized nation. Despite the draconian measures to reduce motor vehicle use, and the many bicycle facilities installed since the 1960s, Copenhagen streets carry many more motor vehicles now than in 1937, and on many main streets, bicyclists are restricted to cycle tracks or lanes which become congested at peak travel times.

You may click on the image to see a larger version.

Bicycle mode share in several European cities, 1920-1995

Bicycle mode share in several European cities, 1920-1995